It seems especially difficult to be well thought of at this time. Every day brings news of another famous person who disappoints us with their actions. It is challenging to completely admire all but a few who have passed through our lives. For me, Lefty Kreh was one such exceptional person.
Lefty affected countless people both inside and outside of the outdoor industry. My first memory of Lefty was years ago when he stopped to talk with me while walking by himself at one of the trade shows. Lefty encouraged me and predicted that a little- known product I had started to represent would ultimately become successful. His prediction was correct.
Many who have met Lefty think of him as just an ordinary guy. My initial meeting of Lefty left me with this same impression. However, I could not have been more wrong in this initial assessment. I saw over the years that Lefty was far from ordinary. As one of Lefty’s close friends, Tom Brokaw, reflected in his book The Greatest Generation regarding Lefty and his peers, -- “It is a generation of towering achievement and modest demeanor, a legacy of their formative years when they were participants in and witness to sacrifices of the highest order.” Lefty was an extraordinary example of the Greatest Generation.
Over the years, I learned that Lefty’s father had died suddenly when Lefty was young, leaving his family in poverty. After graduating from high school, Lefty went to war and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He came home, with the scars of war, married the love of his life, and raised a wonderful family.
Lefty was the most intellectually curious person I have ever met. His mind was always active. A few weeks ago he told me he constantly wanted to learn new things and about the many projects on which he was working. Lefty mentioned that he was deeply involved in raising funds for a film honoring his angling mentor, Joe Brooks. He was also busily cataloging the photographs of his angling life. Lefty possessed a gift for analyzing issues and finding the most common sense approach to them. One only need read Lefty’s 101 Fly-Fishing Tips to gain insight into Lefty’s creative approach to common fishing challenges.
Lefty’s understanding of human behavior was just as insightful. I was at a sales meeting with Lefty that was dragging on because the participants did not want to leave for fear they would appear rude. After some painful repetition rehashing the same issues, Lefty suddenly stood up and announced that he had a rule he followed- when he heard the same issue brought up three times he felt an obligation to stand up and leave, which he promptly did. I was right on his heels.
Lefty came into adulthood when sport fishing was going through significant changes. He experienced the evolution of modern fishing. This was not limited just to fly fishing. Lefty was a walking encyclopedia of all types of fishing tackle and techniques. Anyone who asked Lefty about fishing knots was in for an entertaining demonstration of the depth of his knowledge. - Lefty absolutely loved to share his knowledge and experiences to help others. He was the consummate teacher.
No remembrance of Lefty could omit referencing his “Leftyisms”. There are almost too many of these for me to recount but Lefty once told me about two people who were so stingy that they probably invented copper wire by trying to pull a penny from each other. Those of us who have laughed with Lefty can never repay him for his un-paralleled sense of humor and goodwill.
Lefty ended his written communications with the phrase “All the Best.” I have come to learn from my time with Lefty what he meant by these words. Lefty truly wished everyone the very best that life has to offer.
Rest well, Lefty. Someday we’ll wade across the river and join you around the bend.